I’m A Stranger, Which Makes Me Free

Posted on 15 September 2014

Two overnight flights in a row: over the Atlantic, over Russia. Eagerness overrode any exhaustion—at first—but then it all began to drag into a tunnel of grey, vibrating time when Siberia Airlines’ idea of a veggie wrap was served in the form of a blob of mayonnaise garnished with cole slaw, tucked away inside of a tortilla. And that was in fact, the most edible vegetarian airplane food from then on.

But no matter, shaking away hunger and, more pressingly, thirst, cloaked in a sheer veneer of tiredness, which I at times had to swat away from in front of my face but mostly ignored, we landed at the small Irkutsk airport and walked into the arms of friends—at this point, my friend’s friends. I blundered with my heavy backpack, which was soon to be shouldered not by me but by the man among us, as they do, and began drowning in the foreign sounds and sights that enveloped us as we emerged into the sunny morning.

Tree by Lake Baikal

But, I suppose, drowning isn’t it. I’m submerged, not always able to function normally, really just drifting along on the current, but there’s no panic, no flailing, no “look at me! Help! Get me out of this water!” I simply watch and attempt to listen as my sluggish, poor sleep-deprived brain scrambles through the detritus of four years past to unearth the Russian that lays buried. I flinch every time I mutter también instead of тоже. I mostly watch the others and try to force myself to understand what I don’t, through sheer force of concentration, which helps sometimes, but still. And sometimes I don’t even try but look around instead.

Following, following. Dropping off my laptop at the Great Baikal Trail office—I won’t be needing that for two weeks. Dropping our bags off at the hostel. And quickly, quickly, off to Listvyanka to see Lake Baikal. I’m finally here, I need to see it, and the plans generously form around what is best for me, the new one in town. Following my friends to the market—finally, edible food! Mushroom pies! Ice cream! (in the cold places, they very much love their ice cream and I stand behind this sentiment.)—following them to the marshrutka, the minibus, that will take us to Listvyanka, an hour away. And we’re speeding down the road, my back to the driver, some sort of oil leaking over the floor, mushroom pie crumbling into my lap but mostly my eager, parched mouth.

Birch trees fly by as we crest hills and descend over and over. I’m in Asia, I tell myself. I’m in Siberia. The mystery is here. I’m somewhere, to me, that is wholly new. And I just float along: no discomfort, no worry, just watching it all fly by.

Boat on Lake Baikal

 

Lake Baikal. Even those who have seen it before can’t help but widely grin. We can barely make out the shadowy mountains across the water. If you squint hard enough, they materialize. If you listen hard enough, you understand. If you spend your energy trying, instead of fighting, the new and real, you’ll serenely coast along and absorb it all into your consciousness, your flesh. We wandered on the stony shores, through the fish market, gathering food—fish for them, berries for us all, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, like bitter grapes. We sat on the shore, smiling, eyes narrowed against the sun, my skin rapidly reddening, why yes, I got a tan in Siberia.

Fish Market, Listvyanka

Let’s ride in a boat! Dima says. It’ll be fun! He says. I expected something calm, a placid glide over the clear water, but no, this is Russia and everything jarringly collides, it’s idiosyncratic, because suddenly we are bouncing over waves, jerking back and forth on a speedboat as it figure eights, spray everywhere, and we’re screaming and laughing in the borderlands of glee and fright. The sun beats down, the air shimmers, the water shines even more. I’m in Siberia! I’m on Lake Baikal! I laugh and let the boat toss me around, head back, face open, everything pouring in, for Lake Baikal is all-encompassing, it carries its own feeling.

To Guide Boats, Lake Baikal

Another idiosyncrasy of mine: at this point, I don’t care if I don’t understand everything. I don’t get bothered when I don’t comprehend a language as it floats around me. I don’t care if I don’t know what I’m doing, just caught up in the glide of my hosts, or rather new friends. I, ever in need of control at home, shaking, clenching, nails scraping my palms, my thighs—I need it, see, it’s my home, my place—let this pressure slip off, like a heavy black cloak onto an entry hall floor and I hold up my arms, shrug my shoulders, and confidently step into a place that is not mine, never mine, and I am free.

We’ll Tell All – About Sunrise And About Sunset

Posted on 10 September 2014

Flower, Pinecone, Mushroom, Siberia

I am sitting at home, a novelty indeed after five weeks which brought me from southeastern Siberia to Finland. It is now that I can sort through and edit my photos, regain some sleep reserves that I was lacking, revert to usual communications, and, so importantly, mentally process all that I have done.

A fair amount happened in my small corner of the internet while I was largely ignoring it, or, as was the case for two weeks while in Siberia, unable to access it. While I was in the taiga camping, trail building, and having an amazing time with Great Baikal Trail, I was Freshly Pressed. As a result, I have loads of new followers who, if I am to be presumptuous, may want to hear a bit more about the person behind this blog.

Coincidentally, while I was away, I was also kindly nominated by the sweet and funny collegelady17 for two blogging awards: the One Lovely Blog Award and the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Well, it’s nice to be considered lovely and inspiring – thank you! Here I am to accept these awards and follow and break the rules as I see fit. You can tell from a quick google that I edited the rules to be, in my opinion, a bit less pressuring.

Awards

The Rules

  1. Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
  2. List the rules and display the award.
  3. Share seven facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs.

Seven Facts

  1. I have an excellent Gollum impression. This has been verified by many people, who I have proudly frightened.
  2. Speaking of Gollum – nerd alert! I love love love Tolkien and also Harry Potter. It would be embarrassing if I felt like being embarrassed, but honestly I’m just a bit proud.
  3. Despite that a high proportion of friends and family, and also my partner, are in various medical professions, I’m terribly squeamish. As in, reading about anatomy can make me feel disturbed. Nope, don’t like!
  4. I obsess over music, but do something quite interesting with it. When I get really hooked on a song, I add it to a special playlist. At the end of the year (or the semester, when I was still in school), I have a list of songs that I got into, in chronological order. I love going back and listening to those playlists. Most recent song of this type: ДДТ – Просвистела.
  5. I love love love sauna. Every time I do it, I love it more. And as far as Finnish things go, I also discovered last week that I enjoy “mushrooming,” as we began calling hunting for mushrooms in English.
  6. One of my biggest hates is street harassment. I rarely participate in internet fights, but when I do, it is often about this.
  7. I’m not a tropical beach person. Or a tropical person, really. Though I’ll happily travel basically anywhere, I much prefer temperate or cold climates. And I like cold beaches more than hot ones!
Curonian Spit Beach, Lithuania

This is me, happily taking a corny jumping photo on a cold beach (the Curonian Spit in Lithuania).

Recommended Blogs

Here’s where I’ll simply list some blogs that I especially enjoy reading and basically always check out when a new post shows up on my reader. Consider this a blogroll. I’m not going to pressure anyone to accept this award and do a post though, though (it’s a chain award after all, and maybe not appealing to everyone). So, bloggers I like, feel free to do with this as you want, but know I enjoy your blogs! And to the bloggers I know personally – I miss you!

And now I give up with the disclaimer that there are actually a lot of probably great blogs I found before I left on my trip – but I haven’t been able to keep up with them yet since I haven’t been online much! Without question I’ve overlooked some blogs I quite enjoy, but you know, next time.


So. I leave you with these facts while the person behind them attempts to readjust to daily life at home. And starts purging clothes and other belongs in order to be lighter. And begins the job hunt. And, of course, creates new posts about her recent and incredible Siberian, Baltic, and Finnish adventures for your eyes and mind.

(Small note: post title is from the Просвистела lyrics.)

It’s Not For An Audience

Posted on 2 September 2014

Viru Raba Panorama

When you’re galloping forward, it’s hard to stop. And when I say stop, I don’t mean pause and take in the world around you, because that’s precisely what you’ve been doing as you consume every sight, sound, smell, taste, nuance, history, and present you can, constantly. No, I mean stop and step away from the moment. I mean plug in. I mean stop living your story and momentarily halt to tell it to others, or even to yourself.

Perhaps I’m a post-travel blogger. What can I say right now other than that I have seen and learned so much already? I have met wonderful people. I have stayed in their homes and ridden in their cars. I have always found a place to sleep. I have spoken multiple languages. I have been surrounded by good people, and I have been utterly alone with the trees and the sundews and the little frogs and the blueberries and the boggy water.

Right now, I don’t feel like conveying much. I’m still moving. Once this trip is over in a week, once I have slowed down, once I have properly processed everything that is calmly clamoring in my brain – I’ll tell. But right now I’m living. I don’t need to proclaim this fact for others to hear. I state it to myself simply, quietly: I’m alive.

Lessons Learned From Camping In Siberia

Posted on 22 August 2014

Our little camp in southeastern Siberia truly began to feel like a home, like the place I should be. My sleeping bag was a great bed; I was untroubled by camping night after night for two weeks. I didn’t need an inside anymore. I was out in the world, and with a group of truly great people, at that. And if you watch the world, and listen to it, you can learn some things.

Here is an assortment of what camping in Siberia taught me.


1. Life can be busy – and not boring – sans technology
The camp had no internet, no cell phone reception, and even no electricity (unless a generator was turned on). And I was busy! I honestly found it hard to find the time to do activities such as write in my journal because between working, eating, socializing, cleaning, and sleeping, there was little left. Technology can be a time suck, and, at times, an unnecessary one. I was able to perfectly entertain myself with people, a forest, and the tasks at hand. Internet and the like can be great, but they can also pull us away from the people who are present, by us.

GBT Campfire

2. Man – and technology – is everywhere
We didn’t entirely escape technology though. These days, it is quite all-encompassing. The night sky over us was beautiful. One night, some of us pulled our sleeping bags over to a rock on the river to watch the stars for a while, undisturbed by artificial lights. I saw six shooting stars. And I saw for the first time, quite noticeably, sputniki, or satellites. They moved slowly across the sky, one there, one there, circling us from above. It was remarkable to think that our presence stretches so far.

Siberian Pinecones

3. Manual forest labor has its benefits
We slogged through a bog, we scraped bark off dead trees, and we tried and tried and finally succeeded to fell these dead trees before debarking them. Mosquitos larger than I have ever seen swarmed around, but even worse were the vicious little ants that would reach up to attack if your hand merely swept high above them. Sound fun? Maybe fun isn’t exactly the right word, but it wasn’t unfun either.

Beyond the physical benefits of this work/exercise, there are some social and environmental benefits as well. Of course, this type of work – selectively felling trees, often dead, the only fossil fuel powered tool a chainsaw – has a much smaller environmental footprint than bulldozing a trail and using mass-produced timber to build pathways would. But this work also makes you understand the power of the forest, and perhaps, therefore, respect it more. It took us, a team of eighteen, three days to fell an already dead tree. It took additional days to shred off the bark. And unearthing a tree stump is no easy task. One dead tree part can put up a battle against five people. Maybe we should give trees more of their due respect.

GBT Trail Through the Bog

4. Some people are really great
So, honestly, I can feel pretty down about people. I’m not one who looks on the brighter side when it comes to humanity. But the people I was with in the camp, for the very most part, were great. They were incredibly nice, they were funny, they were generous, they were caring. We could be increasingly goofy (whether this was caused by the isolation or the overconsumption of sweets, I don’t know) and it was all fine, everything goes, you’re taken in with a smile. I know these people are out there now, for sure.

Anya & Liza

5. Yourself is the one to be
And I mean that down to every last bit. You are still you without make-up and covered in specks of bog mud. Don’t worry so much about what you look like. Do whatever is comfortable at the time based on your own feelings, not others’. Be as goofy or as serious as you wish. Drop the self-consciousness because it is a barrier to you, that’s all. The right people won’t leave your side.

On Top of Vityaz

Truly, I’m still absorbing this all. But I can say this for sure: I learned a lot. I was filled with wonder. I want to do it again.

Ogol, Olkhinskoye Plateau

Look At It Sideways: Coping With Pre-Departure Anxiety

Posted on 7 August 2014

Lifting Weights at the Train Graveyard
“How excited are you for your trip?” my boyfriend asked.
“Moderately,” I said, “I still have to pack.”

Moderately. I’m about to embark on a should-be amazing trip to Lake Baikal, the Baltic countries, and my dear Finland. Why wouldn’t I be excited? Alas, although I’m an experienced traveller, the pre-departure anxieties still cling tightly.

I’m an incredibly anxious person. Even going to the grocery store down the street stresses me out, and I waste away in anticipation of the hour when I’ll need to force myself to leave. And driving? Please, please, don’t suggest that I drive somewhere new, or to a place with scarce parking. There’s a good chance I’ll be teary by the end of the struggle—if I’ve even been forced into the car.

How is it that I’m able to travel, to throw my nervous self into random places with languages I do not know, unsure of exactly where I’ll sleep the next night? Travel has taught me a lot about living with anxiety, and indeed, has strengthened me in my daily life. I know I need to keep at it.

By the process of hurling myself into the unknown again and again, I have developed an intimate knowledge of pre-departure anxiety and how to live with it.

Though anxiety can’t easily be banished and left to fade in the dark corners of your brain (it grows there, you see), it’s possible to prevent it from running roughshod all over your mind and ruining the bright anticipation of your travels during a period of time that often lasts longer than the trip itself. Here are some tips from an anxious girl.

Read the full article here.

And So -

Posted on 3 August 2014

Ben's Graduation

It ends and begins. This morning I spent some hours packing. This afternoon, my boyfriend graduated with his Master of Science in Nursing. Tomorrow morning I’m jumping on a plane. These next couple of months will be full of travels, adventures, and changes, of the international, domestic, and personal sorts.

I won’t have internet access for a bit while I am camping in the wilds near Lake Baikal, but never fear – I’ll update you, dear readers, as I can in the coming months. Stay tuned for exciting, shifting times to come.

Next stop, Siberia.

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